What Is Christmas? (It's When We Defiantly Choose the Light)

Last weekend, I hosted my first Christmas party as an employer.

Okay, the truth is, I didn’t host it. My business partner has the gift of hospitality, so he was in charge of organizing the party for our therapy practice. But I figured the evening’s toast would fall to me, so on the morning of the party I awoke early to write it, intending to record a few words about the beauty of the past year.

But the truth is, for each of us at the party, 2016 was not always beautiful. Mess, loss, hardship, grief, sorrow. Professionally, we’d sat with the pain of broken people for a whole year. Personally, we had been those people.

I don’t think we’re alone.

In the last month, I’ve heard countless people say they decorated early for Christmas this year because they needed a little more joy. Many of us, it seems, were deeply craving a season of lights. And of course we were—do you remember this Year of Our Lord 2016?

This was the year of Syria and Aleppo and four million bloodied and displaced refugees with no place to go; of lethal bombs in Brussels and Belgium, mass shootings in Paris and Miami, a deadly renegade truck in Nice, controversial police shootings, and countless quiet tragedies in places not important enough to make the headlines. This was the year of Zika and babies born mortally wounded; of thirteen disastrous fires in the parched state of California and a single devastating blaze in Tennessee; of hurricanes and earthquakes and tsunamis. This was the year that art died in the form of David Bowie and Prince and Leonard Cohen and Gene Wilder and Professor Snape, to name just a few.

This was the year of Brexit.

This was the year that hate speech and hate crimes went mainstream once again. This was the year in which a presidential election left half of a country celebrating and half of a country grieving and a whole country—the most powerful on the planet—wholly divided. This was the year even the news—that most reliable of things—became fake and questionable and untrustworthy. This was the year we tapped on our news apps and held our breath, waiting for the next tragedy.

And that is only a fraction of the heartache that happened in homes and around the globe.

Of course we need a little light.

In my faith tradition, the four weeks prior to Christmas are called Advent—they are not weeks of celebration and light; they are weeks spent in darkness, waiting for celebration and light. In this tradition, the lighting of lights on Christmas Eve represents the life of the baby Jesus, entering into the darkness of the world. Then, Christmas is celebrated for the next twelve days.

There’s even a song about that.

As I contemplated what to say at our office party, I realized why so many of us wanted to skip Advent and jump early into Christmas this year: we don’t need four weeks of darkness because, in a way, it feels like the whole year has been filled with darkness. And, this year, it feels like we need more than twelve days of Christmas; we need twelve months. We need the coming year to shine as if Christmas forgot to end.

Yet, no one can make a whole year shine.

You can’t make a whole world shine, either—too many dark variables at play.

You can’t even force another person to shine.

All you can do is let your own light shine.

All you can do is drop a quarter in that red tin bucket when you hear the bells ringing. All you can do is pay for the people behind you in the drive-thru. All you can do is look every solemn stranger in the eye and smile into their darkness. All you can do is let the incense at midnight mass work its way into your soul. All you can do is choose vulnerability over fear, belonging over division, and love over everything else. All you can do is believe the words of that little Baby who grew up to tell us all, “You are the light of the world…let your light shine…”

All you can do is remember, all this light is who we truly are.

This year, may the message of Christmas get into you: Love entered into the world, Divinity entered into the mess, Light entered into the darkness. At the end of a 2016 filled with darkness, in the midst of this season of lights, may you choose your one word for 2017:


Defiantly choose the light.

Posted in

Order Now


In his debut novel, Kelly weaves a page-turning, plot-twisting tale that explores the spiritual depths of identity and relationships, amidst themes of healing, grace, faith, forgiveness, and freedom.

Connect with Kelly

About Kelly

Dr. Kelly Flanagan is a psychologist, author, consultant, and speaker who enjoys walking with people through the three essentials of a truly satisfying life: worthiness, belonging, and purpose. His blog writings have been featured in Reader’s Digest, The Huffington Post, The 5 Love Languages, and the TODAY Show. Kelly is the author of Loveable and True Companions.